Once again, Larry Ellison has taken a basic technology and made it seem interesting. That basic technology is the portal, and Oracle is staking a good part of its business on it. Ive taken it on myself to see if Oracle can deliver, since theres obviously intense competition from just about all of Oracles rivals.
On the surface, Oracles portal strategy centers on portal.oracle.com, announced Dec. 11, which is available now for a free trial evaluation. With this portal, Oracle seems to be targeting individuals and small businesses, though the portal is obviously not complete. It looks much like my.yahoo.com or even a homestead.com site. If the current incarnation of Oracles portal were all there is to this picture, the company would surely die a horrible dot-com death. You cant deliver something thats less than what Yahoo offers and charge $100 per month per gigabyte of use for it.
Its difficult to believe that Oracles portal technology will become a disruptive technology and knock the PC industry off its feet. On the other hand, those early versions of Windows didnt really knock my socks off either, but they did slow my PC to a crawl. At least Oracles portal is quick and easy.
Oracles strategy is much deeper. "Software shouldnt be glued together," Ellison said. "It should be engineered to work together. ... It should just install and run your entire business."
Its an interesting analogy, since the very first Oracle product I ever used was Oracle Glue, which is still a registered trademark with the company. Behind the portal interface, however, the company has a lot going on. The database is being modified to become a carrier-class platform. Oracles already improving on the Java virtual machine and on analytics already in the database.
More important, Oracles caching engine, Real Application Clusters, will be a substantial part of the framework when Oracle9i ships. The Oracle database will be fast enough to support the portal from a performance standpoint. After all, Oracle had a big influence on Yahoos technical design, and Oracle stole (er, was influenced by) the ideas on how to scale a portal.
All this will be meaningless, however, if Oracle cant bridge corporate applications into the portal. Im sure Oracle has powerful tools, but Ive never been impressed by them. Oracle still lacks a tool that can wrap applications into those that are portal-enabled. Even if there were such a tool and it did a great job, its still glue to me. Obviously, Ellison wants us to move beyond wrapping technology, but its not going to disappear all that fast.
On the bright side, Oracle has one of the most interesting application development environments that Ive seen. Its currently called Project Cherokee, a complete Web development environment that just might make this portal thing a reality.